Thursday, June 21, 2012

We’re the weird ones.

I’m a big fan of Bill Maher, and I’m a big fan of taking vacations. So when Maher spoke about the ridiculousness of the American attitude towards time off in his New Rules soliloquy this past Friday, I perked up. And please keep in mind that the below quote was meant by Maher as a joke. But his message is sincere. 
  • "New Rule: American workers must get at least as much paid vacation as the Chinese slaves who make their iPhones.”

Allow me to paraphrase Maher’s explanation: 138 nations mandate vacation time by law. The United States is not one of them. The French take a minimum of 30 paid vacation days. The English get 28 paid days off. The Swiss get 20. Our government requires 0.

And when some Americans do travel they think it’s weird when Europeans dip out for a siesta after lunch. What these Americans don’t realize is that we’re the weird ones. The Europeans have the right idea.

Of course a majority of Americans don't even take all of the few vacation days they get. They’re too scared to seem less valuable to their bosses, especially because we live in the only “big boy country” (Maher’s phraseology) where losing your job means also losing your healthcare.

And Maher concludes: “And then you won't be able to get the Prozac that helps you forget how depressed you are about having no free time.”

Maher makes the valid (and to me, quite obvious) point that Americans have an overall skewed view when it comes to vacation time. And after all, we are a nation founded on Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of HappinessIt really is ironic that such a lazy culture frowns upon taking time off from work. It’s commonsense to me that workers need downtime to unwind and refresh, in order to ultimately be more productive in the workplace. (And in their personal lives.) Somehow our nation (and especially NYC) has demonized the idea of taking days off from the daily grind. Prior to my current career in yoga I had one coworker who proudly pronounced she had missed a family member’s wedding for a work event. She had made the comment in an attempt to gain respect. Instead I felt bad for her. Many of my friends are terrified to even request the days off that they technically have. And in many cases HR may indicate two weeks, but what employers really expect is less than five days. And five days or even two weeks vacation time max allowed during a whole year? That’s an INSANELY small allowance of personal time. And for so many Americans it’s not spent in the sun or the sand or even on the couch. It’s spent going to the doctor, taking care of kids, doing tedious errands, etc. God forbid we hard-working Americans take extended periods of time to just play.

And it’s not just American adults who are downtime-deprived. I’ve heard horror stories from babysitters who say they’ve told kids to go outside and play, and the kids ask, “What should we do?” Many kids these days are directionless without their Wii’s or iPads or whatever. Our current culture doesn’t necessarily foster imagination. Tots are so used to coexisting with technology or being carted from one organized activity to another – so many of them can’t just go outside and play.

But back to the older set: Everybody’s literally working for the weekend. “Work hard/play hard” is the saying. Spend Monday through Friday hunched over a keyboard only to be able to enjoy binge drinking on both Friday and Saturday nights. And then repeat. And repeat. Forever. Instead let’s aim for a more (to some, weird) European lifestyle. Have a glass of wine with lunch. Take a siesta in the afternoon. Take all of August off. And – somehow! – still get your sh*t done. It boils down to priorities. My priorities are to do work that is meaningful and of service, and to have good old-fashioned fun – to eat meals with my friends and family, to get besos and high-fives from my nephew, to linger over half-cafs at Starbucks with my dad, to go biking along the Hudson with my boyfriend, to go on adventures in truly beautiful places like Napa and Peru… to really pursue happiness.  

P.S. Martha Beck speaks to the importance of engaging in ‘deep play’ in her book Finding Your Way in a Wild New World. Read an insightful interview here. Good stuff. 

images via pinterest


  1. i couldn't agree more. im so scared to ask for time off.

    how do we bring European lifestyle to NYC?


  2. I love this one, Amy! Just sent to the bf - it's time for a vacation :)


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